Monday, December 12, 2011

New from FEMA: National Preparedness System Description

Nearly three years into the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate are putting their stamp on the nations preparations for natural disasters and threats from terrorism. The focus on preparing the nation in the Bush administration began after 9/11 and then intensified after Katrina. The Obama Administration is not changing the direction set by the Bush Administration so much as refining it and making it more accountable in this era of diminished resources.

Earlier this Spring President Obama released the Presidential Preparedness Directive 8 (PPD 8) which laid out how the nation would prepare for disasters in the future and directed DHS and FEMA to prepare and release a set of documents within an ambitious series of deadlines over the next year. In October FEMA released the National Preparedness Goal and I commented on the document in my October blog. Earlier this month another document directed by PPD 8 was released, the National Preparedness System description.

Preparedness is all about building and maintaining capability. The new National Preparedness Goal identified the Nation’s core capabilities across five mission areas: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. Mass Care Services is one of fourteen core capabilities in the Response Mission Area. But what is capability? In 2007 the Bush Administration, in the National Preparedness Guidelines, defined capability as "the combination of elements required to deliver the desired outcome." The new National Preparedness System description defines capabilities as "the means to accomplish a mission, function, or objective based on the performance of related tasks, under specified conditions, to target levels of performance."

The key part of that definition is the phrase "to target levels of performance." The phrase looks like accountability, walks like accountability and smells like accountability. The people looking for this accountability are in Congress, and they have, in typical federal government fashion, thrown billions of dollars in the last decade at states and communities and fire departments and police departments and fancy emergency operations centers in an effort to build the nation's capability. And to what end? Are we more prepared? We don't know, but we sure spent a lot of money on it. 

In June of this year I wrote about creating national standards for mass care resources and how that can help to develop mass care capability. The State of Florida Mass Care & Emergency Assistance Capability Level Guide, adopted this year, makes an effort to define mass care by "related tasks, under specified conditions, to target levels of performance." To evaluate the mass care performance of a jurisdiction during an event or exercise the evaluator must compare performance against a targeted level. If the performance does not meet the target then corrective action is needed. The corrective action could be to apply for a grant for federal funds using the evaluation as justification. Or the corrective action could be to fire the mass care coordinator.

What all this really means is that target levels will drive accountability and federal dollars to jurisdictions. So who gets to decide at what levels the targets should be for a given jurisdiction?                     The federal government in Washington? How will that go over? Not too well. They tried that already with the Target Capabilities List in 2007, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the locals.

So let each jurisdiction set their own target levels for each core capabilities. But who's got the time for that? And that leaves the funding process open to gaming by each jurisdiction by setting high targets that need lots of federal dollars to achieve.

I am curious to see how FEMA sets this thing up. Stay tuned.

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